The only daily newspaper in Spokane, Washington — the Cowles family-owned Spokesman-Review — is plagued by Spokane law enforcement personnel, most notably Spokane Police Department officials, blogging under false names and partial names.
Most notable is the regular and extended participation of Spokane Police Department Detective Dan Torok, who killed the unarmed Jerome Alford on 3/24/07, and who was one of the direct participants on 3/18/06 in the brutal homicide of Otto Zehm, an unarmed disabled Spokane native.
Torok participates in newspaper blogs under the name “Dan” and posts at all hours of the day and night on matters related to the Spokane Police and other law enforcement matters. Torok is well-known for staunch on-line defenses of his own police activities, as well as those of seriously disgraced police colleagues here and elsewhere in the country, such as the soon-to-be ex-SPD Officer Jason Uberuaga.
(Note: Uberuaga is the SPD veteran who was alleged to have raped a woman during a bar-hopping incident with Spokane Sheriff Deputies. Uberagua used a cell phone camera to photograph the woman’s breasts, had sex with her, and drove his unmarked patrol car under the influence of alcohol. Uberuaga was immediately removed from the Federal Drug Task Force of which he was a deputized member but the decision to fire him from the Spokane Police Department was not taken by SPD chief Anne Kirkpatrick until January 17, 2008. Uberuaga involved along with Torok in the 3/18/2006 homicide killing of Otto Zehm, a brutal murder which involved seven Spokane cops beating, tasering, hog-tying, masking, and kneeing the unarmed Zehm on March 18, 2006.)
Also active on the Spokesman-Review blogs is Sgt. Jim Faddis. Sgt. Faddis was unmasked blogging under the pseudonym of “Kevin”. He was repentant and promised he would never do so again but continued to blog as “Jim” or “Jim F”. In his blog writings, Faddis was often the backup to Torok’s verbal assaults on citizen bloggers. Faddis is a former Internal Affairs officer and Special Investigations Unit member.
Some Spokesman-Review bloggers have expressed concern regarding whether or not Torok and Faddis, as well as Det. J.R. Russell, have used official duty time and resource for their blog activities. (According to Spokane City records, then-Sergaent Dan Torok was paid $75,744 in 2002 while at that same time, Sergaent Faddis was paid $76,480.)
Others have expressed concerns about police officials lurking about blogs and intervening under the guise of citizens with no connection to the police in an effort to bolster a severely tarnished police department.
On a rare occasion Torok would intentionally sign a posting as “Det. Dan Torok” and explain that he was acting in an official capacity. Then there was the occasion when he signed in that fashion and had to return and write a disclaimer that he should not have signed as an SPD employee. Wow! Just sign Dan Torok and clarify that you are a cop, especially when the topic is the cops, including yourself!
The whole affair raises serious questions for those blogging openly under their real names (as I have made a practice for a few years now) or for those concerned about the identities of those with whom they are engaging in public blogs, not least those owned and run by newspapers.
Despite the important information disclosed at the Spokesman-Review’s Hard 7 blog by SPD officials Torok, Faddis and Russell about the Spokane Police Department and highly prejudicial attitudes held by them toward the mentally ill and disabled as well citizens in general, the Spokesman-Review recently purged its site of all postings at Hard 7 on January 4, 2008. That action was taken by Ken Paulman, one of the Spokesman-Review’s primary censors and the editor of the S-R’s collection of columns known as “7″.
Among the information purged by Paulman are very important public discussions involving citizen blog-posters engaging both Torok and Faddis regarding the lack of independent civilian oversight of the Spokane Police Department; the unprovoked brutality on July 4, 2007 against young people by the SPD Tactical Response Unit in Riverfront Park; the excessive force arrest on June 27, 2007 of Dan Treecraft by SPD officers at the location of the secret meeting between Spokane law enforcement officials and then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez; the incomplete investigation of the homicide of Otto Zehm in which Torok was a participant; Torok’s killing of the unarmed Jerome Alford; tasers; high powered police weaponry acquired by the SPD; the use of the Spokane Police Guild website and forum to carry on private discussions about “LE friendly and LE hostile businesses“; and the use of the Guild website to post a private link to this blog (first denied by Faddis and subsequently admitted by him).
In purging the entire history of postings at Hard 7, Paulman wrote:
And that’s a wrap…
Posted by Ken Paulman, 7 editor • 4 Jan 9:38 AM
As most of you already know, Frank Sennett, author of the Hard 7 column and blog, is on his way to the great Midwest to become the new editor of Time Out Chicago.
Unfortunately, that means the Hard 7 blog is closing up shop.
Frank is no longer posting or moderating, and unattended blogs tend to become magnets for spam, flame wars, and other garbage. So I’ve had to shut down comments on the blog. This unfortunately means all of the archived comments aren’t visible, but we’ll see about getting them back online soon.
Hard 7 author and blogmeister Frank Sennett had barley left Spokane for a new job in Chicago when Paulman struck in the first days of 2008. It will be a measure of the credibility of Spokesman-Review and the integrity of Paulman — one of the Spokesman’s primary monitors and censors of public’s participation in its dialogue with the town’s only daily newspaper — if Paulman keeps his word to “see about getting them (the missing archived comments) back online soon.”
Paulman admits to his “banning” and censorship activities at the S-R, having written previously, (quote) I had banned Brookbank back when I was moderating the “old” News is a Conversation, so that may have added to the confusion. Posted by Ken Paulman | 20 Dec 9:08 AM (end quote)
(The other primary S-R censor is Doug Floyd, S-R editorial page “editor”. Floyd has known no other employer other than the Spokesman-Review since 1969, three years after he graduated from journalism school in Oregon, and thus is likely eminently qualified to represent the censorial red pen of S-R publisher Stacey Cowles.)
Frank Sennett’s postings are still there to read at Hard 7 but the public forum that is a blog — including substantive discussions by the public of the above mentioned topics of great importance to the community — were summarily removed. The advent of the internet and interactive media such as blogs have resulted in a worldwide process of remaking the institution known as “the newspaper”. One traditional role of newspapers has been as the “paper of record” for towns, regions, and countries. Thus, in the process of remaking the newspaper, a central and crucial question for the future of the free press and free expression will be the role of newspapers as the “source of record” for events and of dialogues on matters of crucial public interest, as well as the role to be played by related electronic media used by newspapers today, such as blogs, comment sections, etc.
At the present moment, the direction of the Spokesman-Review (already severely crisis stricken) bodes ill for that future. The S-R editors have chosen to take refuge in their privileged position and the belief — expressed on multiple occasions by S-R editor-in-chief Steve Smith– that what is in play on Spokesman-Review blogs is not a matter of freedom of speech. Rather, Smith argues, the reader and blog writer must understand that what they mistakenly believe to be a right to freedom of speech in the public’s blogging activities is in fact a gift given to them by the newspaper’s publisher and therefore not a right at all but rather an honor and a privilege bestowed on the blog reader/writer by the editor on behalf of the publisher. Furthermore, per Smith, that gift, honor, and privilege may be abridged or completely taken away at the discretion of the editor or his minions.
And therein lies the danger to free speech constituted by grossly consolidated media ownership in the US and globally. The owner is effectively the censor, even if indirectly, through his editors. The publisher invites participation. The editor monitors participation. The editor censors participation.
This is a perfect sub-theme for the disgrace of the media’s open and unquestioning complicity with the US government in the “war on terror” and the phenomenon of “embedded journalists” and “lapdog reporters”. The media no longer even pretends to be a watchdog or a source of objective truth. When — as in the case of the Spokesman-Review’s Doug Floyd — a newspaper has as its editorial page ‘editor’ a careerist with nearly 4 decades working loyally for that institution, there is truly a danger. More so when the institution is actually a family dynasty which has dominated, if not at times run, a city for well over a century.
Such is the history of our fair town, Spokane, Washington. Police bloggers, newspaper censors, and a disempowered public.
Where art thee now, Frank Sennett?
(I know, I know. Chicago. And good luck to ya!)